BP, White House Oil Spill Blame Game Heats Up

Bob Dudley, BP's managing director, and Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, on "Face the Nation" Sunday, May 30, 2010. CBS

In the wake of the failure of the "Top Kill" experiment to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the White House and BP are showing deep divisions over accountability and responsibility five weeks after the explosion that started the oil spill.

On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, BP's Managing Director Bob Dudley and Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, clashed over the initial estimates of the spill which showed flow rates much below what we know now.

"The estimates from the well rates have never been BP estimates," Dudley told host John Dickerson. "They've been through the unified command center. The best way to estimate those early rates were from satellite picture."

But Browner countered by saying that BP's interest isn't first and foremost to contain and clean the massive spill.

"It's important to understand that BP has a financial interest in what those flow rates are. They will ultimately pay a fine based on those rates," she said.

When asked if BP lied about initial estimates, she said: "The very, very first estimates came from BP. They had the footage of the plume. The government then did satellite imagery and we realized that those figures were not accurate."

Dudley also took issue with some estimates of oil spillage beyond that of the government that he called "alarmist."

"Some of those larger estimates of 70,000-100,000 barrels a day were alarmist. We're not seeing anything like that," he said.

Dickerson pressed Dudley over the disparity from the figures.

"The current estimates by the government are between 12 and 19,000 barrels a day. The precision on these estimates has always been low. We have designed the spill response for much, much higher rates," Dudley added.

He added that such "alarmist" figures actually harmed the tourism industry in the Gulf region, squarely pointing the finger at the White House.

Browner also defended the administration's response despite the initial low estimates.

"We always planned for the worst… We started mobilizing immediately," she said. "Those initial low estimates were a problem because we have the huge lakes of ocean under the surface no one can see. If we had an accurate number we would have known this oil is going somewhere. We have to look for it. The fact we didn't know that was a real big problem."

She added: "They're continuing to study the plumes under the sea. We need to get better information about that."

Beyond the estimates, what could be more troubling news for residents of the Gulf is that there is no guarantees that the next attempts to stop the spill may not work, and there could still be oil leaking throughout the Summer.

"We're operating at the frontiers of human endeavor at 5,000 feet," BP's Dudley said. "There is risk with it. There's no question."

"The worst is that we have oil leaking until August, until these relief wells are done. We will be prepared for the worst," Browner said.

Later on the program, CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson weighted in on what this could mean for the response and cleanup effort down the road.

"I do wonder if we're going to see a growing rift between this partnership with the administration… Congress and BP because this is the first time I heard BP so strongly say, hey, the government's to blame for those bad figures. And the government saying back, of course, that BP is to blame for those bad oil flow estimates."
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